MERCED — In most school classrooms, the answers to various academic questions are pretty much cut and dried. They are either right or wrong.
Not in Leslie Reschenberg's classes.
Reschenberg teaches art to about 650 McSwain School students from transitional kindergarten through fifth grade. She expects her students' work to look different from everyone else's and even welcomes "happy mistakes."
"People ask me what I teach," Reschenberg said. "I say problem-solving, decision-making and creativity. I let them know how to find creativity and step into it. I love this job; students are excited and want to share it."
Students get enough absolute right-wrong drills during their days and it's nice to have a little gray area, she quips.
Reschenberg's classes are required, not electives. She said creativity is looking at things in a different way, thinking outside the box. She wants students to experience their own successes.
"I want to make art compelling, fun and exciting," Reschenberg said. "I like to turn on the 'I can' part. I don't want them to get shut down someplace. I don't want them to feel they did anything wrong. I am adamant against that happening."
McSwain Union School District Superintendent Stan Mollart said art can be used as a tool to tie together curriculum areas.
"It helps make the curriculum more rich and full," Mollart said. "There is so much value. She (Reschenberg) does a great job and we see the results in how it plays out in test scores."
Mollart said Reschenberg is very creative with very little money. He hopes in financially difficult times to keep the art program going.
Reschenberg has taught at McSwain School for five years. An illustrator and graphic designer for 20 years, she still keeps her hand in art projects and is regularly called upon to design logos for the school's educational foundation.
Reschenberg graduated from UC Davis in 1983 with a bachelor of science degree in design. She used to paint elaborate designs on harpsichords in San Francisco and also has been a botanical illustrator.
"I see creativity even in kindergarten," Reschenberg said. "Some have innate ability to bring more into it. Creativity to me means looking at things in a different way. If everybody did the same thing it would be boring and I don't want that."
Amber Mello, 12, is a seventh-grader who has taken elective art classes at McSwain.
"It is fun having art!" she said. "We work on the same projects and get the same directions as the rest of the class but we each have different ideas and get different results. We have a lot of fun, creative projects. It is not like taking a test where there are exact answers to the questions. In art you make the questions and the answers. You get a blank piece of paper and you fill it."
McSwain Principal Terrie Rohrer believes art is important in building well-rounded students.
"She's fantastic and we're fortunate to have someone with her background and experience," Rohrer said. "It's a win-win situation for us. Art supports the regular curriculum, and the vocabulary she uses ties in with math, science and history."
Reschenberg said while art is different than teaching core subjects, it ties into other disciplines. The building blocks of art involve line, forms, shapes, colors, shades and tones, space and visual textures.
During one class session, fifth-graders did an optical tension or optical illusion exercise. They drew concentric circles on a piece of paper and later would color in some of these rings. Their work appeared like ripples of water, rings on a tree or a whirlpool.
Amber Spielman, a McSwain teacher and parent, lauds Reschenberg.
"My son is very excited about the art program at McSwain School," Spielman said. "He is thrilled to learn about various artists and masterpieces while he gets to create his own."
Erica Patrick also is a parent and McSwain teacher. She said art enriches the child's education by giving them an opportunity to be free and creative in a world where classes are standards-driven.
Reschenberg's students learn about artists Andy Warhol, Picasso, Georgia O'Keeffe, Jackson Pollock and Matisse. She said her students will bring her pictures they have drawn.
"It's a form of communication students don't find in other subjects," she said.
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or email@example.com.